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Violence continues in Syria, UN observers caught in the middle

Beirut: The UN's observer mission in Syria has been caught up in a burst of violence captured on video, with a roadside bomb damaging its cars just minutes after witnesses said regime forces gunned down mourners at a funeral procession nearby.

The mission confirmed its vehicles were hit by a bomb shortly after they met with Syrian rebels on Tuesday, and said there were no injuries.

It was not clear how close the observers were to the funeral shootings, but if confirmed, a regime attack on civilians directly in front of the observer mission could put pressure on them to describe publicly what they are seeing in Syria. They report back to the UN but have not publicised their findings.

Tuesday's attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun is at least the second time that UN observers have been caught up in Syria's violence. Last week, a roadside bomb struck a Syrian military truck in the south of the country just seconds after the head of the UN observers team drove by in a convoy.

A video of the bomb attack was posted by activists online. "The front of a UN car took a direct hit," activist Fadi al-Yassin, who witnessed the incident, told The Associated Press. "Everyone ran in panic but the observers stayed in the car. People tried to talk to them but they wouldn't even open their windows."

Just minutes earlier, Syrian forces fired on a funeral procession, activists said. Al-Yassin and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that as many as 20 people may have been killed and said many others were wounded, some of them in serious condition. It was impossible to independently confirm the toll.

 Violence continues in Syria, UN observers caught in the middle

In this image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network purports to show UN observers walking with Syrian government troops in Talbeesa, Homs, Syria. AP

"This is a real massacre and it took place in the presence of UN observers," Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Observatory, said of the attack on the funeral. He called for an international investigation and for the monitors to state publicly what they saw.

A video posted by activists online appeared to show the exact moment the UN vehicle was struck. The video shows two white vehicles clearly marked "UN" with people milling around it, and two others parked a few meters behind. Slippers apparently left behind by the mourners running away from the shooting earlier are seen strewn about on the ground.

The blast blew off the front of the first vehicle and sent up a plume of smoke as people screamed and frantically ran for cover. The four cars are then seen slowly driving away.

Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Syria's special envoy Kofi Annan, confirmed the observers were caught up in the country's violence as they met with the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"The UN Mission in Syria reports that shortly after 2 p.m. local time today, a (UN) convoy of four vehicles was struck by an explosion from an improvised explosive device," Fawzi said in a statement. "Three UN vehicles were damaged. No UN personnel were injured."

The UN's humanitarian affairs chief said that more than 1 million Syrians need assistance, but negotiating the delivery of aid has been "very slow" because the regime wants the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to control it.

"From the UN's perspective, it's important that any aid be delivered impartially," Valerie Amos said in New York. "It needs to go to people in opposition-held areas as well as government-held areas."

She said some community-based organizations fear that collecting a list of names of people who need aid could lead to those people being targeted.

Annan urged Syrian authorities to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid "without further delay," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday.

AP

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Updated Date: May 16, 2012 11:41:37 IST

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